Two Huge Catalysts for Breakthrough Ideas You May Be Ignoring

01.11.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course How to have breakthrough ideas by Eileen Purdy


The value of sleep is finally getting the props and PR it deserves—a huge thanks, in part, to Arianna Huffington’s (co-founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global) recent book, The Sleep Revolution. But while she connects the importance of sleep to many things, our focus here is just on breakthrough ideas. The other benefits will be icing on the cake!


How Sleep Helps You Have Breakthrough Ideas

With sleep and breakthrough ideas, we’re not focusing on remembering your dreams and picking through them for the next out-of-the-box innovation. Our interest lies in the research conducted by scientists from the University of San Diego, who have found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep specifically enhances the integration of unassociated information for creative problem-solving. It creates a richer network of associations for future use, and as we know, creativity is all about the associations!

Researchers have long known sleeping is much more complicated than just conking out for the night. Thanks to the growing number of available tools—fMRIs, PET scans, high-density EEGs—scientist are now able to to watch the nocturnal brain at work and see how it ticks throughout the sleep cycle.


Super Quick Review of Sleep

There are two principal cycles of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). They alternate with varying amounts of time for each, and usually, each cycle gets longer as the night progresses. NREM sleep starts as a light doze and steadily progresses to deeper levels. REM sleep usually begins about 90 minutes after the start of the first NREM cycle. Most of the good REM sleep comes in the last four hours of sleep, according to cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Payne of Notre Dame University.

For us and our breakthrough ideas, it can be wrapped up as suggested by neuroscientist Howard Nusbaum of the University of Chicago: If you have an idea about a simpler solution and it’s been working itself out in your head, you still tend to use the familiar one, but when you sleep, the better answer has a chance to emerge.

Make sure you are putting a priority on getting a solid amount of sleep each night so your REM sleep and neural connections are firing on all cylinders!


Exercise and Breakthroughs

Let’s cut to the chase: Scientists know that exercise, especially aerobic workouts like running, stimulates something called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. New research by Wendy A. Suzuki suggests that this growth in the hippocampus could be good for creativity. Part of the hypothesis, as research shows, is that the ability to imagine the future and to think creatively both depend on this region.

Although there’s not a ton of data to prove this hypothesis yet, the studies that do exist are intriguing and important for us in the breakthrough idea business. There are also several studies that show that going for a walk helps people come up with new ideas and that these benefits persist even after a person stops moving. And there’s also some data that shows that exercise in general may help with a sort of creative problem-solving.

While the jury is still out regarding the exact mechanisms by which exercise and creativity are linked, if you are trying to be the top 1% of people with a breakthrough idea, I’d suggest you lace up!

Tomorrow, we tackle the roles of creativity and imagination.


Recommended book

The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington


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